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Just the two of us: establishing a partnership approach to selling

20th Apr 2016
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In the world of sales, the word ‘partnership’ has become so overused that it’s lost its original meaning. It’s a great shame because, when done genuinely, partnership selling is the best way to sell, for both the sales person and the customer.  As true partners, both parties enjoy win/win outcomes. The process is professional, thoughtful, ethical and enjoyable.   


So, how do you establish a partnership approach to selling?


1. Know your products


One of the main roles sales people have is to give helpful and insightful advice. In order to be able to do this, they need to have a clear knowledge of the products and services they’re promoting. They need to know their strengths and weaknesses, who they are most suitable for, and what their benefits are.


They also need to be able to describe these things clearly and fairly.


2. Know your customers


Armed with the knowledge of their own products and services, sales people also need to understand their customers. What industries are they in? What are the issues faced by those industries? What are their specific organisations trying to achieve? What are their customers’ roles in this and what do they need to achieve? What problems are they trying to solve with this purchase?


Without this context, the sales person’s understanding, and therefore advice, will be partial. However, when sales people gain knowledge of their customers, they can start to build meaningful and long-term partnerships. Eventually, they’ll be able to help clients look ahead, solving problems even before they arise.


3. Know their requirements


Background information is invaluable, but it doesn’t replace the need to have a clear understanding of the specific requirements of customers for each purchase. Sales people needs to invest significant time understanding:

what exactly customers need

why they need it

when they need it

how they need it to work

what they expect the outcome to be

what benefits they are anticipating or what problems will be solved.


4. Match them


At this stage, the sales person can focus on closing the deal or acting as a genuine partner. If it’s only the deal that’s the focus, the sales person will be tempted to highlight what fits and gloss over (at best) any problems or pitfalls of using the products or services on this occasion.


A genuine partnership approach, however, involves being consultative and honest. It involves showing how well (or not) the offerings meet the client’s requirements. This doesn’t mean that sales people focus only on what’s negative, but rather that they are determined to be open.


In reality, there’s almost never a ‘perfect fit’, so an honest sales person, who’s determined to be a genuine partner will benefit from a client who will adopt a similar approach. The relationship develops into both sales person and customer working through a solution. This is vastly different from a situation where the customer has to keep his/her guard up against being ‘sold to’!


5. Advise


Having gone through the ‘matching’ process, sales people need to give their best advice. Sales people often fear being entirely candid at this stage. However, it’s worth considering that most sales people do not make single sales. Rather, they rely on repeat business and word of mouth recommendations.


If their product or service is right for clients, they should advise them confidently to make the purchase. Often, the customer will have already drawn the same conclusion because of the partnership approach evident throughout the process.


If their products or services are not right for a client, sales people will benefit enormously by being honest. As a result, the next time they deal with those same customers, they’ll be known as trustworthy people.  Customers will be more likely to buy from them. Such customers may also broadcast their experience with you, which could result in further sales.


6. Follow up


Finally, any true partner would check up after a deal to make sure that customers are benefiting as they hoped and expected. With luck, the answer will be ‘yes’. But if it isn’t, this provides an opportunity to make things right, further establishing the sales person as a true partner.


Partnership selling may seem like extra work.  However, as great sales people know, this early investment and approach can return dividends.  So, let’s hear it for partnership selling.  It could be the key you need to unlocking your sales potential.


Heather Foley is a consultant at, UK-based HR consultancy.


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